The police have defended the use of its water cannon truck on Sunday after it fired blue dye at Kowloon mosque. Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau Superintendent Swalikh Mohammed said its deployment was intended to protect the mosque on Nathan Road.
Police have been accused of targeting the Kowloon Masjid and Islamic Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui while conducting a clearance operation at around 4pm on Sunday. Eyewitnesses said that there were no protesters nearby at the time of the incident. Police, meanwhile, have maintained that the mosque was accidentally sprayed.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Police Commissioner Stephen Lo arrived at the mosque on Monday morning to offer their apologies to the Muslim community in person. But Mohan Chugani, a former Chairman of the Indian Association who was injured, has said he did not accept the apology from Lam.
At a regular police press conference on Monday, Superintendent Mohammed – a Muslim himself – said the purpose of the police operation was to disperse dangerous protesters, and he received information that some people might damage the mosque.
“The police operation and objective was very clear – to do the dispersal and also to protect the mosque,” he said.
“Once this incident occurred, we have sincerely apologised, we proactively contacted the mosque and Muslim community leaders. We have offered our explanation, and that it was unintended, the mosque was not [the] target,” he said.
Mohammed said that, after the incident, there were claims online which sought to divide the Muslim community and sow the seeds of violence – but Muslims would not use violence and hatred to solve problems.
He said he has been trying to reach out to Chugani to explain the incident.
According to Police Senior Superintendent (Operations) Wong Wai-shun, an officer with station sergeant ranking would be inside the water cannon truck to make decisions.
“The officer has to consider many different factors. I do not believe the officer should take full responsibility,” he said.
Regional Commander of Kowloon West Cheuk Hau-yip also apologised for blue dye being sprayed outside St Andrew’s Church in Tsim Sha Tsui.
“We certainly [respect] religious freedom in Hong Kong, and we strive to protect all places of worship. As the head of the Kowloon West region, I would like to reiterate that we certainly do not have any malicious intent. We endeavour to protect the community. We once again express our sincere apology,” he said.
Asked if he will apologise for the inappropriate use of water cannon trucks, Cheuk said: “I am waiting for rioters to apologise to the police.”
Police Public Relations Branch (PPRB) Senior Superintendent Yolanda Yu entered the mosque on Sunday night after the incident, but she was criticised as being disrespectful as she wore a short-sleeved polo shirt, and did not cover her hair with a headscarf in accordance with Islamic tradition.
Mohammed said Yu dressed modestly by covering “what must not ordinarily appear” in public.
“That satisfies the condition,” he said. “I think our officers have shown utmost respect to the religion [and] to the community.”
He added that she entered the community centre part of the mosque, and not the prayer halls.
260 tear gas rounds
Large-scale peaceful protests against a bill that would have enabled extraditions to China have entered their 20th week, evolving into sometimes violent displays of dissent over Beijing’s encroachment, democracy and alleged police violence.
According to PPRB Chief Superintendent John Tse, 68 people between 15 and 67 were arrested between Friday and Sunday in relation to the protests on suspicion of theft, unlawful assembly, wearing masks and criminal damage.
Tse said 260 tear gas canisters, 130 rubber bullets, around 20 bean bag rounds and 30 sponge grenades were fired on Sunday.
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